Hello all my readers & clients!
I just been made aware yesterday that Avenue Two Travel was featured in the below article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on Feb 3rd & written by Patricia Sheridan of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, regarding the current travel industry. Very nice to read, and to see us being the only local representation in the article. Our CFO Craig Bush was quoted along with one of our senior advisors.
It also has a link to Avenue Two Travel's website, which upon searching under Pittsburgh Advisors you'll find me as one of a handful of local advisors repped by Avenue Two Travel.
Travel Agents - hit hard by the by internet are making a comeback.
With the onset of the internet, many people found they could book trips using online travel services or by simply searching the web and making flight, hotel and ground transportation arrangements for themselves. The self-bookers nearly grounded the travel adviser industry.
“In the 1970s, when airlines were deregulated, they reported that there were 12,000 travel agencies in the county (affiliated with the airlines),” said Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders. “That jumped to a high of 45,000 in the late 1990s.”
“Today, we are back down to approximately 14,000 airline associated agencies,” Mr. Block said. He suspects there are another 10,000 more brick-and-mortar travel agencies that do not sell airline tickets. “Those types of agencies specialize in tours and cruises,” he said. Travel Leaders, headquartered in New York City, is the largest network of travel agencies in North America and has more than 600 affiliated agents in the Pittsburgh region.
More than two decades after the internet made do-it-yourself travel arrangements easier and 9/11 hit the airlines hard, travel agents — now often called advisers — are making a comeback.
“From 2001 through 2019, Avenue Two Travel’s sales have grown at an average compound annual growth rate of 15%,” said Craig Bush, chairman and CFO of Avenue Two Travel, based in Villanova, Pa., with agents in Pittsburgh. It is an authorized Disney Vacation planner and specializes in luxury travel.
While plenty of people are still using travel sites such as Trip Advisor, Trivago and Priceline, the industry has found a way to survive by selling the personalized expertise that’s hard to replicate through a website. And many travelers, including those in Pittsburgh, are crafting a combo strategy.
“We can arrange U.S. trips — flights, hotels, car rentals, fishing guides — without help, but anything overseas requires local knowledge that we don't have we use our travel agent,” admitted a Pittsburgh client
The role of travel advisers today is to use their knowledge and experience to cut through incredible amount of information and options, and craft a trip customized to the client at the best price.
“Our job as travel advisers is to help you create the perfect trip — to help you make a memory that is worth the cost,” said an advisor of Avenue Two Travel.
“In the 1980s, the vast majority of travelers booked through a travel agent,” recalled Mr. Block.
The trend that he and other agencies are seeing is the return of consumer to the travel expert. “They are coming back especially for complicated trips,” he said. Of course, what is complicated to one person may not be to another.
“I remember being overwhelmed by the crowds in Florence, [Italy], one trip and deciding to leave a day early,”. “I emailed my advisor at Avenue Two Travel, and they shortened our Florence hotel stay — without charge — moved our rental car up by a day and got us into our next hotel a day earlier than planned — invaluable.”
He’s clearly a fan.
“Just try to buy a rail ticket from Como to Venice on your own or find a nice but not overpriced hotel in Vienna,”. “Sure, Rick Steves has suggestions, but our advisor has come up with super places that all seem to give us a better room than what we've paid for.”
The business equation
Airlines eliminated commissions as more people were booking online themselves. “That was the travel industry’s bread and butter,”
“Delta was the first airline to start the reduction of commissions — first to 5% and then zero,” remembered Mr. Block. A lot of consolidation of agencies followed with many smaller companies going out of business. “We had to start charging fees to recoup the loss and people resisted that move,” Because they don’t make a commission on a domestic airline ticket now, there is a standard ticketing fee. “It can range from $35 to $50, but that covers any schedule change or cancellation — you still have our services, and we work on finding you the best options,”.
Travel agents will get updates from the airlines which enables them to act quickly to minimize the inconvenience of a weather delay, a strike or a mechanical failure. If you have booked your own ticket, you are on your own.
“There is a snowball effect when a plane is delayed or cancelled, and we work our magic to make sure all your connections are smooth and the hotels are all made aware of your change of plans,” If you are planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip with many moving parts, you will pay a planning fee.
Milestone trips have become very popular. “People turning 50 or 60 or an anniversary — those are popular trips right now,” “You are paying for expertise and peace of mind, because with travel, for some, there is so much anxiety,” Avenue Two Travel, which also has packing guides for novice travelers, is part of the Virtuoso network, a luxury travel group limited to the top 1% of travel providers.
Travel agents can also focus on special requirements, such as a gluten-free diet.
“Our role is really to find out why you have chosen a destination and what you want out of that trip,” Mr. Block, the Travel Leaders president, said. “It could be to golf, to look up ancestry or a gourmet experience.”
An advantage travel agencies have over many DIYers is they know where the hot spots are and how to get the most authenticity out of those destinations. That can help when people are investing their hard-earned budgets in what is supposed to be an enjoyable experience.
“We did a survey of our Pittsburgh members and found year-over-year sales increased 7% last year,” Mr. Block said, “and 82% of travelers surveyed expect to spend more in 2020 than they did in 2019.”
So where are Pittsburghers going?
The majority of Pittsburgh travelers head to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and on various cruises, according to the same survey.
[Personal comment: "I do not agree with this statement, nearly 95% of my clientele business in International Trips, Cruises & Tours all over the world. While I also handle Disney and US based cruises it's a small percentage of what I do annually"]
“What was a little bit more unique was the Galapagos [Islands] is showing up as a place people want to go,” Mr. Block said. “Italy is also making a comeback among Pittsburgh-based travelers.”
River cruising in Europe has always been popular, but Mr. Block found people are already booking Christmas market cruises as far out as 2021.
Patricia Sheridan: email@example.com